Obamacare deadline set for March 31

Published 8:44 am Tuesday, March 25, 2014

By Stephanie Nelson

For The Advance

There’s less than one week left for most people to sign up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

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The deadline for this open enrollment period is Monday, March 31. And while previous deadlines have been a little fluid, the Obama administration, including the president himself has been firm that this deadline is really the deadline.

Confusion may be the biggest factor of all surrounding the law, said Michael Morrisey, director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Lister Hill Center for Health Policy.

“I think there’s genuinely a lot of confusion,” Morrisey said in a UAB release. “Insurance is a complicated thing, and so it’s not unusual that people would have questions.”

With open enrollment ending March 31, some estimates suggest as many of 60 percent of people say they are confused about whether they need insurance, how to get it and what the Health Insurance Marketplace is.
For those with questions, Morrisey suggests surfing the webpage, healthcare.gov, for answers.

“If you find the terminology confusing, there’s a glossary,” he said. “To figure out how to get covered or check coverage, go to the ‘Get Covered’ guide.”

Morrisey also suggests talking with a “navigator” to determine what type of coverage is needed.

“These specially trained people – some are paid; some are volunteers – are likely to be somewhere close to you,” he said. “To find them go to localhelp.healthcare.gov.”

But the best advice on how to figure things out is to ask someone you know, he said.

“Ask a relative, a friend, or people at your church or your place of employment who already have coverage to walk you through the process,” he said.

There are exemptions to the law, but, in general, every U.S. citizen and those legal residents who have been more than five years need to have coverage or face a penalty of 1 percent of your income, with a minimum penalty of $95.

Those not required to get covered, include:

• Those who do not file federal income tax returns

• Those who would have been eligible for the expanded Medicaid program, but their state did not expand the program. Alabama is one of those states.

• Those who had their coverage cancelled – there are often things one has to do to document, so keep the cancellation notice.

After March 31, one won’t be able to buy individual health insurance at all unless some special circumstance occurs during the year, such as losing your job, getting married or moving. Those missing the deadline will have to wait until the next open enrollment period, which is not until November. And that insurance won’t start until next January.

So if you’re uninsured and you can afford insurance, you need to get signed up before Monday or you could find yourself paying a penalty with next year’s taxes for not having insurance.

However, the March 31 deadline does not apply to public programs like Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program. If you are eligible for those, you can enroll anytime during the year.